J.P. Morgan: bluebird bio Soars On CEO's Sickle Cell Data

Published: Jan 16, 2015

J.P. Morgan: Bluebird Bio Trading Near Historic Highs
January 15, 2015
By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

Promising biotech Bluebird Bio was trading near historic highs Thursday, the morning after its chief executive told an audience that the company expects data on its potentially-disease ending sickle cell treatment by the end of 2015.

Nick Leschly, CEO, of bluebird, also said that its version of lentiglobin, LentiGlobin BB305, keeps track of production a key marker in keeping down the cost of clinical trials and measuring data.

Leschly made the comments at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference which began Monday in San Francisco and is the oldest and largest conference of its type. It includes 300 of the largest biotech, healthcare and biopharma companies presenting their top-line data and estimates to 4,000 eager bankers, analysts, institutional investors, hedge funds and journalists.

On Thursday, Bluebird shares were traded near the 52-week high of $106.23, from a previous close of $105, with a volume of 1,170,476 shares against an average volume for the last 30 days of 1,265,571.

J.P. Morgan: Bluebird Bio Trading Near Historic Highs

The new gene therapy from Bluebird Bio broke new records in December when the company reported it was able to keep four patients with a lethal blood disorder from having to take life-sustaining blood transfusions within 90 days after they were treated, the company said this week. It also reported that one patient had been able to forgo transfusions for a full 12 months at this point.

That news sent shares of the company up 70 percent the day it was announced, as the market looked eagerly for signs that Bluebird’s LentiGlobin BB305 could be a panacea for blood diseases.

Bluebird’s LentiGlobin BB305 extracts blood stem cells and then infuses them with a working version of the malfunctioning gene that had caused the disease.

It treated four patients who were born with beta-thalassemia, a disease caused by a single gene that reduces or prevents the ability of red blood cells to produce hemoglobin, which is necessary to deliver oxygen to the body. People with the disease must undergo monthly blood transfusions in order to survive—but if Bluebird’s therapy continues to be successful, they may now be freed from that burden.

The number of people affected is not huge, but is certainly significant: Around 40,000 babies world-wide and between 1,000 and 3,000 in the U.S. are born with the condition each year.

The new therapy is so effective, Wall Street is champing at the bit to see it be rushed into later-stage trials to bring it to market more quickly. Some analysts have long said bluebird has a “robust” proof of concept for the therapy so far, said Joshua Schimmer, a biotech analyst with Piper Jaffray.

“We hosted a call with a hemoglobinopathy specialist. Based on this and our assessment of the data reported for LentiGlobin in beta-thal, we conclude the product has achieved robust proof of concept which is also likely to translate into success in sickle cell anemia,” wrote Schimmer in a note to investors in November.

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